Summary: W&H sink Angel to the bottom of the ocean instead of Connor and they erase everyone’s memories of his existence, including his own.
Spoilers: Up until the end of Season Three
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: AA, NF, GTCA
Notes: Connor never existed and Cordelia never became part demon (thus the visions are killers). W&H found out that there was a way to bind Angel’s soul and decided to get rid of him. Knowing that he was resurrected once, they opted for imprisonment instead of dusting him. Time has been written over and so everyone remembers events slightly different.
Feedback: Sure, just be gentle with me.
Hunger. It beat at him, torturing his body and mind, numbing his senses to everything but the gnawing, ravenous beast that lay inside of him just below the surface. How and why he was shackled and sealed into his aquatic prison had escaped him, as most of his memories had. Those that did remain mixed and swirled themselves with his dreams and nightmares until only a few could be deemed as reality, truth. And some of the memories, he realized, were the cause of the nightmares. For instance the memory of what he was, more beast than man. A killer. A human soul encased in the body of a demon – or maybe just the opposite. Whatever his soul was or was not, he knew that it was slipping away with each passing day, week, or month and that terrified him more than any hallucination or terrible nightmare. Because he knew without it, that the monster that roared for release, that fogged his mind with rage and hatred, that ate away at what sanity was left in him, would be free and no one would ever be safe.
He glanced down at his gray, emaciated hands and then back out to the black and murky ocean floor. What had he done to deserve this punishment, this curse? Curse. The word vibrated through him, jarring some memory loose. An answer to a long forgotten question. He reached for it, tried to grab hold but it was gone just as quickly as it came. Rage built inside of his weakened body and he pulled at the iron chains with a fierceness and strength that surprised him until exhaustion at the exertion his feeble attempt at an escape took him over, causing his hands to drop uselessly to his sides. Closing his eyes, he tried to block out the taunting laughter and dark whispers of his inner demon and concentrated on the dream he had conjured up so many times before. The face and smile that had kept what little sanity he had intact and his soul safely anchored, caging the horrible beast within.
She was beautiful of course, his dream goddess, his savior. Her smile warmed his soul. Her hazel eyes saw through him, into his very core, knew who he was and what lay trapped deep inside and loved him still. Her hair was soft and silky and smelled of some flower he couldn’t name and her body made him tight and hard with an ache so strong, so raw, that he usually had to shake himself and end the dream right there. He opened his eyes and allowed his head to loll back against the wall of the steel coffin, reminding himself that she wasn’t real, she couldn’t be. The thought of this woman, his fantasy soul mate, roaming the world without him, innocent, unprotected, unguarded, was unacceptable. No, she wasn’t real. She was a dream, a dream that allowed him delusions of a love so powerful it could bind his soul and banish the beast in him forever.
Brown eyes stared at her, embedding themselves into her heart and soul. A face came into focus around those dark, mysterious eyes and she knew him then. Her Angel. That’s what she had named him anyway. Her dark, brooding, mysterious Angel whose chocolate eyes melted her insides to a quivering puddle of nerves and glowed an ominous amber as he delivered justice to the evil of the world. He stepped from the shadows of her room, his muscles rippling beneath his silk shirt as he closed the distance between them with slow, masculine grace. Lifting his hand to her face, he brushed back a fallen strand of hair from her forehead and whispered her name, “Cordelia.” She looked into his eyes, at his handsome face. His voice was so soft, his touch so tender. He seemed the epitome of all that was gentle and kind, but Cordelia knew better. She knew that below his beautiful, powerful exterior a war was raging. A battle that if lost, could cost him his very soul. Sadness filled her at her inability to help him in that battle, to fight at his side. Cordelia‘s face turned away from his, reluctant for him to see the fear and worry in her eyes. He reached up again, this time touching her chin, urging her gaze back to his. “Cordelia, save me,” he breathed, his eyes full of desperation and longing.
“What? Save you from what, Angel?“ tears began to burn her eyes.
“From what I’ll become without you,” his words were raspy and almost inaudible, as if they had been ripped from his very soul. His angelic face changed then. His eyes became orbs of amber fire, his face contorted, teeth elongated into jagged fangs. She should have been terrified but she only felt sorrow. A sob escaped her and she embraced him then, offering him a safe haven, solace from the terrible conflict between what he wanted to be and what he was. A warrior that struggled to stay atop the wall separating his duty to protect the world with lethal justice, and his brutal, killer instinct.
He buried his face in her thick, shoulder length, chestnut hair, drinking in her scent, holding her so close, so possessively that she could hardly breath.
“Cordelia,” a voice boomed in her mind, rattling her brain and shaking the images in her dream. “Cordelia,” the voice was persistent, frightened.
Cordelia’s eyes blinked open once, twice, and then focused on the room around her as she lifted her head from the office desk. Wesley stood over her, a look of worry etched across his face. “Cordelia, are you all right? You were moaning in your sleep.”
She looked down guiltily. How could she ever tell her friend, her partner how disturbed she had become? That Cordelia Chase, Sunnydale Queen turned supernatural crime fighter, dreamed, no fantasized, about a demon, a vampire no less. The very things that often frequented her visions and haunted her in the nightmares that followed.
“I know the visions have been taking their toll on you lately,” he admitted with soft concern.
Her guilt increased, he thought she was having one of her nightmares. Little did he know that this dream, this ’Angel’ was no nightmare. Sure the dreams of the two of them together instilled fear, but not of him. This fantasy she had created in her mind made her more afraid of herself and of her sanity than anything, that she could want him, burn for this monster terrified her more than anything else she and her friends had faced in their years together. “I’m fine Wes, really,” she tried convincingly. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”
“Are you still having trouble sleeping at night?” he took the chair opposite the desk, watching her yawn and stretch, trying desperately to shake the haze of sleep from her mind.
“It’s the weirdest thing,” she whispered, not wanting Fred or Gunn to hear, confessing more than she knew she should. “At night I feel wide awake, full of energy even, but as soon as the sun comes up and it’s time to start the day all I want to do is sleep,” ‘and dream,’ she added in her mind.
“And the nightmares? Are they getting any better? Less frequent?”
“No,” Cordelia averted her eyes from her friend’s face, not wanting him to see the extent of pain and fear that the horrible dreams were causing.
“Cordelia, maybe it’s time to reconsider our options. Lorne’s contact alluded to the possibility of a spell that could rid you of the visions.”
“No!” her voice sounded panicked. She took a calming breath, ready for the discussion that she and her long time friend entered into at least once a week. “Wesley, we’ve been over this too many times already. You know how I feel. The visions are…a part of me. I can’t explain it really, I just know that I’m supposed to have them. Doyle gave me these things for a reason and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let someone take them away from me. Sure they give me brain-splitting headaches and nightmares worse than any slasher film I’ve ever seen,” Wesley opened his mouth to interrupt and was stopped by Cordelia’s raised hand as she continued. “But every once in a while we catch the bad guy, Wes. We stop something horrible from happening to an innocent person.”
“And the times we don’t? The pain, the nightmares, they’re at their worst when that happens. Aren’t they?”
Cordelia gave a small shrug and an unconvincing smile, “Does it matter? Knowing what we know now, what’s out there, that we can stop a small percentage of it. I could never live with myself if I gave them up. I just… I couldn’t, Wes. I think I’d be in worse shape than I am now.”
Wesley stood and reached out, placing a comforting hand on hers. “It’s Friday night. Fred volunteered to help Lorne with a special project at the club and Gunn and I were going to catch a movie. Why don’t you come with us?” he tried, knowing the answer before he even asked the question. Over the past year he’d watched Cordelia Chase, the vibrant and sassy young woman that had caught his eye in Sunnydale, turn into an introvert. She rarely went out, accepting a date here and there but never letting anyone too close, not even her friends.
“No, I think I’ll go home, take a hot bath, and try to actually get some sleep tonight.”
“We don’t have to go to the movies. We could pick up Fred after she assists Lorne and all come by later, if you’re up and want some company.”
“And let you miss that action packed Bruce Willis sequel you guys have been talking about all week? I‘d never hear the end of it,” she smiled brightly, insistently.
Wesley just stared.
“Go, I’ll be fine. You two have a big old testosterone filled evening.”
“Call us if you need anything.”
“Now why would I do that when I know perfectly well that you will be calling every half hour to check up on me?” she stood and lifted her purse from the desk drawer. “Relax,” she walked around the desk and gave him a quick, rare hug. “We all sacrificed a little something of ourselves when we took on this little mission of ours.”
“Some more than others,” he pointed out.
The two shared a knowing look before Cordelia broke the silence, “Bye Gunn, Fred. See ya on Monday,” she waved to the occupants in the adjoining office.
Fred and Gunn had been locked in quiet conversation. The small Texan that had saved them all from Pylea giggled and waved back, “Bye.”
“Yo, girl,” Gunn jumped up and walked through the office door. “Be careful. It looks like that badass storm’s really kickin’ things up outside. Don’t want you floatin’ away on us or anything.” Gunn was showing his own particular brand of worry. “And no midnight, insomniac drives in the country either.”
She looked accusingly between her two friends, “If you guys are finished lecturing me on my mental and physical safety, I’d like to get home,” she gave them both a raised eyebrow.
“Hey, somebody’s got to keep an eye out for you girl, protect you from all that trouble you seem to be gettin into all the time.”
“One time Gunn. I call you one time three months ago to change a flat on my jeep and you have never let me live it down since.”
“A flat on your jeep, in the middle of the night at that lookout you love to drive to alone. You don’t need to be doin’ that kind of stuff, Barbie. You know what’s really out there. You want to go stare at the ocean one of us can drive you, in the daylight.”
“Oh gee, my big strong heroes,” she teased, trying to turn the conversation into a lighter tone. “You do remember me, the woman who saved you from that Wornack demon a couple of weeks ago? Just because I don’t know how to change a tire or how that little pumpy thing works, doesn’t mean I can’t defend myself, or you,” she bit out.
“Cordelia,” Wesley chimed in. “Gunn and I both know that you are a valuable asset to our team, but I believe that you have fought demons and monsters with us for so long that you have forgotten there are other dangers in the world. Human monsters that wouldn’t care about the cross you keep in your glove box or the holy water in your purse. No matter what your skills when dealing with the occult, it is still very dangerous for you, a woman, to wander that remote beach alone in the middle of the night.”
“Fred, help me out here,” Cordelia looked to the young woman who now stood in the doorway, listening intently to the conversation.
“I think he’s right, Cordelia. I mean we all know how brave and strong you are,” she said with admiration. “I mean you saved us all when we were in Pylea, but..”
“Fred, you saved us from Pylea. It was your brain that got us out of that hellhole,” Cordelia admitted truthfully, trying to show a self-conscious Fred her worth.
“Yeah, but you chopped off that guy’s head and freed all the slaves.”
“But you showed Gunn and Wesley the way inside the castle.”
“Yeah, but then they got caught and you had to free them from the dungeon.”
“But it was you who knew where they took Lorne and how to set him free.”
“Alright,” Gunn interrupted, uncomfortable at the feeling of failure creeping over him. “You both saved the day in Pylea, we get it. Hurray for woman power. It still don’t mean it’s safe for you to be walkin’ alone on that beach.”
“All we want you to do Cordelia is promise us that there will be no more midnight strolls. If you feel a need to go, let one of us take you.”
Cordelia looked between her friends and found their faces full of concern and determination. “Alright,” she breathed deeply. “No more late night drives to the beach. Anything else?”
“Now that you mention it,” Gunn took the opportunity. “That dude that lives down the hall from you gives me the creeps.”
“Yeah, that’s his name. I don’t think you should be talkin’ to him, much less letting him into your apartment.”
“He does have a point, Cordelia.”
“We just care about you, girl.”
“We are simply concerned for your safety,” the two men looked to each other in complete agreement.
“Are they serious?” Cordelia looked toward the only female friend she had now for support.
Fred shrugged her shoulders and shot Cordelia a timid smile, unwilling to choose sides in the matter.
Angry at the impromptu intervention, Cordelia slung her purse over her shoulder and turned toward the door. “They can fight monsters, jump through portals and do shots with a bar full of demons on ‘two for one’ Thursdays at Caritas,” she muttered to herself as she walked from the room and toward the office door without looking back to the others, “but my shy, nerdy neighbor down the hall gives them the creeps,” she complained as she let the glass door to the small set of offices slam shut and headed out into the mounting storm.
A strange sensation took hold of him, the chains clinked as his body swayed from side to side. Suddenly he realized that the coffin was buoyant, rolling and churning with the frantic tide, swirling in a dizzying series of twists and turns.
As quickly as the turbulence had started it stopped and from his glass window he began to see things, a piece of driftwood, seaweed, ocean litter. Again the coffin rolled and flipped, tossed around until the glass gave way and he closed his eyes, readying himself for the onslaught of salty water. Instead, he felt the pelt of hard rain, the rush of wind, and opened his eyes to the thundering night sky. Frozen in disbelief, afraid that this was just another hallucination, he dragged the scent of the turbulent night air into his lungs. Before he could appreciate it, savor it, the wind wailed and the encasement was picked up again, turned and smashed into something with such force that the door gave way.
He felt his shoulder dislocate when the steel box finally fell hard on its side atop the powdery sand of the beach. And then the air died down until the hurricane winds where simply ferocious gusts, whipping the brown grains into his eyes and mouth. It was inches away, the beach. So close that when he lifted one of his chained wrists, he could almost touch it through the open casket door. He rested back to his side, staring at the freedom that lay in front of him.
The pain in his shoulder was simply uncomfortable. Even though he couldn’t remember specifics about his life before his imprisonment, he remembered that he could endure much worse than a dislocated joint, he had suffered many, more serious wounds, mortal ones even. He was after all a vampire. A jolt shot through him at that realization, that memory. A vampire, that is what he was.
He looked to his shoulder and then to his shackled wrists, wandering at how long it took for two broken hands to heal on a vampire.
Cordelia slowed to a crawl in the pouring rain, unable to see the road in front of her much less the lookout to the beach on her left. She had intended on just driving by it on her way, well, way out of her way home. After all, she had only promised the guys no more late night drives or strolls on the beach. It was early evening.
“Crap,” she griped as she pulled over to what she hoped was the side of the road. She would just have to wait for the rain to let up and hope that the crashing waves she could hear in the distance, weren’t a sign of the weather turning worse.
She tried to roll down her window, wanting to see the spot that drew her night after night, but quickly rolled the glass up when the wind and rain poured through the crack. Why was she so drawn to this spot? For the past year she had made a nightly pilgrimage to the overlook and beach, twice wading out into the ocean up to her waist before she was even aware of what she had done.
Well, it was going to stop. For the past twelve months she had been locked inside some self imposed prison, avoiding any close contact with her friends, keeping everyone at arms length, unable to socialize with the outside world because of her obsession with this spot and the dark, guilty dream of some dangerous fantasy lover.
Sighing, she focused hard through the blurry windshield. The wind had calmed some, and the rain had turned from solid sheets into a hard steady downpour, enough so that she could see the yellow line on the road and the railing that stood inches from her door. She could go home now, start up her jeep and just take off. She was certain that she had convinced herself to do just that even as she slid across the seat and opened the passenger door, slipping out unprotected into the pouring Los Angeles rain.
The cool rain felt good against her skin and, after reaching the bottom of the embankment, she closed her eyes and turned her face upward into the hard shower. Water streamed across her cheeks, thumped a chaotic rhythm out on her forehead, and in minutes she was completely soaked, trembling from the gusts of wind that whipped the thick wet strands of her hair into a tangled mess. She welcomed the feeling of the cold rain drenching her, as if the water could wash away the visions, the pain, the nightmares. Maybe the trembling could shake her back to reality, back to her old self again.
She sensed the danger even before it came. Opening her eyes she scanned the beach, squinting against the effects of the storm, unable to see more than a few feet in front of her. Something was out there, watching. Quickly she turned, but as she climbed with hands and feet up the embankment, a cold hand locked its icy fingers around her ankle, roughly pulling her back to the sand below. She tumbled hard, landing on her back, the breath momentarily knocked from her chest.
“And you were afraid it was going to be a slow night tonight,” the red headed vamp said to his partner as he straddled a breathless and dazed Cordelia. “This one’s got a killer body. I can’t decide which part to sink my teeth into first,” he grinned down at the stunned seer, sliding a hand lasciviously around the swell of her breast and down to her navel.
“Can we play with her for a while?” the younger vamp came into view as a flash of lightening arced across the sky.
“Sure we can. This is your first after all. It should be memorable.”
The younger vampire advanced eagerly, his monstrous features twisted into a childlike grin of excitement.
Cordelia breathed in deep, gaining her bearings and twisted and bucked her body until she was free from the vampire’s grasp. Her brain told her to climb back up, to chance reaching the jeep before the two bloodsuckers grabbed her again, but her instinct, that gut feeling that had kept her alive since reaching L.A., told her to turn the other way and run as fast as she could.
She could hear them laughing and calling behind her. Her heart raced and her eyes were almost completely closed against the bombardment of rain, wind, and sand as she ran blindly down the deserted beach. The moment the taunts and laughter stopped, she knew she was in trouble. Her head snapped back and she was pushed down to her knees, a fist full of her hair clutched in the redheaded vamps hand. Kneeling beside her, he yanked her hair back and held her face inches from his own.
“Now I ask you. Was that very polite? I mean, I know I’m an indulgent sire, letting my childe play with his dinner and all, but it is his birthday,” he sighed for effect and leaned closer to her ear. “Guess I’ll just have to take a little of the fight out of you. Don’t worry,” he crooned. “I’ll only take enough to make you weak, you’ll still be conscious enough to beg, and squirm.”
Cordelia swallowed hard. Why hadn’t she listened to Wes and Gunn? She thought about the stake she had stashed between the seats in her vehicle, the cross in the glove box, the holy water. Why hadn’t she brought any of that with her? She closed her eyes and waited for the piercing pain that she knew would come.
Just as his fangs touched her skin, a loud pop and crack echoed in her ears and the vampire tossed her aside, screaming in pain and clutching his arm. Cordelia scrambled to her feat, turned and ran. She didn’t look back as she heard the screams of her attackers or the deafening silence that followed.
“Wait,” a raspy, hoarse voice called out to her. She froze, realizing it must be the voice of the person who had saved her. Slowly, cautiously she turned and saw the pitiful sight.
By the looks of the waterlogged, tattered clothing, the man must have been a homeless person sleeping on the beach and caught in the raging storm. His skin was wrinkled, dry and gray, making it impossible to tell his age. He looked more sick than old. He slumped to the ground, seemingly spent by his confrontation with the two vamps. She looked at his gnarled hands and the way one arm hung uselessly at his side and wondered how on earth he had fought them in the first place, much less won. He must have been hopped up on drugs or something, that was the only logical explanation. She didn’t want to think about all of the illogical ones running in the back of her mind.
He was probably dangerous. She could hear Wes and Gunn’s voice echoing in her head, telling her to get away from him. But he had saved her life and he seemed as if he were in pain or shock. Unable to stop herself, she took a tentative step toward him, not wanting to alarm him if drugs were the cause of his superhuman strength. His head turned up when she was just a few steps away, giving her the first glimpse at his face. It was hideous, marred with cracks and lacerations and bloated into an unnatural, disfigurement. His skin was a bluish white, almost translucent and his lips were crusty and black. But his eyes, his eyes were beautiful, a deep chocolate brown.
Her breath caught in her throat and she purposely blurred her vision, trying to build her dream man’s face around those eyes. She shook her head, disgusted with herself for allowing her thoughts to drift off into fantasyland. This poor, sick, homeless man had saved her life. He was probably in need of medical care, or at the very least a warm bed and a meal. She bent down in front of him and tried to make her voice come out as softly as possibly in the pouring rain.
“My jeep is just up the beach at the lookout.”
He just stared at her in confusion.
“Do you have anywhere to go?” she worried her bottom lip when she still received no response. “I could take you to a shelter,” she suggested, “or the hospital. You’re in pretty bad shape.”
“No hospital,” he croaked out.
“Okay, so you do understand what I’m saying,” she edged closer to him as if he were a wounded animal. A strange feeling came over her as she continued to stare into his eyes. She had to help this man, needed to know that he was safe. “Regional Med Center is only a few miles from here,” she reached out to touch one of his mangled hands but stopped when he pulled it slightly back. “It might be good to have a doctor look at those,” she tried soothingly.
“No hospitals,” came his gravelly answer.
“Okay,” she stood. “Shelter it is then.”
His eyes followed her but he didn’t move.
“Well, I’m not going to carry you and I certainly can’t leave you out here in this storm, so you’re going to have to get up and walk. You killed two vampires with your bare….hands, I’m sure you can manage a few more steps up to the road. You did kill them didn’t you?” Cordelia suddenly worried that her attackers might be playing a game.
With his nod as an answer, she breathed a sigh of relief and tried to help the stranger to his feet, knowing even as she did so that Wes and Gunn were going to kill her, if this guy didn’t beat them to it.
What was he going to do? He’d dreamed about her so many times knowing she couldn’t be real, but here she was inches away from him, her hair dripping with rain water, her eyes smudged with mascara, and she was still his radiant, beautiful fantasy. The vision that had kept his soul fighting for survival during the long, dark months. He stared at her intently as she sat next to him in the parked jeep, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth and gripping the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. He wasn’t quite sure how he knew but she was thinking, trying to decide what to do about him.
It had taken them two hours to drive to the four shelters she knew of in that part of L.A. only to find that due to the storm all were full. Not that it really mattered, full or not he wouldn’t have stayed, he couldn’t, not now that he had found her. He would have simply left the moment she drove off, followed her, stalked her even, until he knew her every move. He wanted, no needed to protect her, know that she was safe.
His gut clenched and guilt flooded him as he thought about the scene he had come upon at the beach, her face etched in terror as the vampire held her in his grasp. Although he had recognized her immediately, he had been stunned enough that he had stood frozen for a split second, just enough time for the demon to get his hands on her. After a few precious and wasted moments, he had realized that he wasn’t dreaming. He couldn’t understand how or why, but she was real, alive and she’d been alone and unprotected just as he had imagined she would be. The thought of what might have happened if he had not been there both angered and frightened him. He wanted to grab her and shake her, scold her for being so stupid. What had she been doing out there all alone? Even if she knew nothing of the dangers that lurked in the night, the storm could have been enough to kill her.
She didn’t realize just what she had risked by putting herself in danger like that, especially now that he was free. Nothing could happen to her, because although he had never known a world with her in it, he couldn’t imagine one without her, not one that he would want to exist in anyway. If she had died, right there in front of him, he knew that the beast would have won and the world would have paid a terrible price. He could never let her be alone and unguarded again and so he had made a solemn vow to himself after letting his own demon free to rip the heads from her attackers that never again would she have to fight for her life, not now that he had found her. She belonged with him, to him, and no one would ever try to harm her. He would always be with her, whether she knew it or not, whether she wanted it or not.
He realized that deep down inside his dark soul his obsession with being near her, protecting her wasn’t completely noble or unselfish by any means. Although her safety, life and happiness would always come before his, there was a part of him that knew he had to keep her for himself for more than her well being. Because the truth was that just as she needed him to protect her from the evil of the world, he needed her to protect him from the evil that lay inside, the beast that even now roared in his ears, demanding that he take her, use her for sustenance or turn her into what he was, a monster.
He glanced down at his tattered clothes and then back to her troubled eyes focusing on nothing in particular as she thought about doing the right thing. She thought he was human, a poor disfigured homeless man. Well, she got the poor and homeless part right. But he wasn’t a man. Suddenly the thought of what he truly was sickened him. He might be able to fool her into thinking he was something he wasn’t, but he couldn‘t fool himself. He was no better than the animals that had almost taken her life by the edge of the ocean, yet somehow he hoped that with her help, her love, he could be more, should be more. He could only trust as he sat and watched her, that she would make the right choice and invite him into her home, her life, and eventually her heart. If she didn’t….
Finally, pushing a piece of matted, wet hair from her face, Cordelia turned to look at her passenger. “Okay, here’s the deal. I can’t leave you out in this stuff and obviously there’s no room in the inn,” she nodded her head toward the entrance of the shelter. “I should take you to Wesley’s or Gunn’s but then they’d know about my little adventure at the beach,” she reasoned aloud, “and, well, none of us want that,” she laughed nervously. “So, I’m going to take you home with me just until we find somewhere for you to go. But I’m warning you, if you’re some kind of serial killer or something I have a ghost who’s very protective and an expert shot when it comes to throwing kitchen knives at unwanted guests. Got it?” her voice trembled a little, despite her attempt at an authoritative tone. Off of his non-responsive stare she added, “You don’t look too surprised about the ghost part. Guess you wouldn’t seeing as how you took apart two vamps with your bare hands.” She felt a small shudder run through her but quickly chased it away, unwilling and unable to dissect that piece of information just yet. “Ready?” she asked as she put the jeep in gear.
He nodded his response and even as she said the words, giving him the very thing he wanted, he couldn’t help but to be angry at her for taking a complete stranger home with her. She was too good, too trusting. No matter how tough she tried to be, no matter how she tried to cover fear with witty banter, he could see her. She was innocent, all goodness, compassion and light and he was afraid for her. Afraid that the darkness inside him might be too powerful for even both of them to fight.
What the hell was she thinking? Every rational part of her knew that it was definitely a bad idea to invite a stranger home with her. Especially a stranger that even in what appeared to be terrible physical condition could overpower two vamps. How had he done that and why was she just now questioning that little accomplishment?
She searched her mind for an answer as she parked the jeep by the curb, pushing away the first explanation that tried to pop into her head and settling on the second and less frightening one. Gunn. He had lived on the streets, learned to fight and defeat demons. He was human yet she had seen him time and again kill things that she thought were impossible to kill. He was almost as strong and skilled as a slayer, even though the will to survive and protect, not destiny, had been his motivation. That was probably how this poor man had had to live his life. Fighting every night just to stay alive on the streets. It showed in his eyes. He was a man who had seen death, fear, and true evil; someone who had been forced to kill or be killed. It was a rational explanation. He was a big man. It was possible and it would explain his terrible condition and his gaping bloodless wounds. That had to be it. Right? And even if it wasn’t, if he was something else, something different, did it matter? Lorne was ‘different‘. Doyle had been ‘different‘. Besides, he had saved her, in the middle of a raging storm on a secluded beach he had faced two monsters and saved her. Just like Gunn would have. Of course Gunn would have used an axe, not his bare hands, but she wouldn’t think about that small detail right now.
The apartment complex, just as all of the other buildings on her street, was completely dark. “Great,” Cordelia muttered as she and her homeless guest made their way down the shadowed entryway and to the stair well. Cordelia felt her heart race as the oppressive and eerie darkness started to work on her nerves. She stole a glance at the silent stranger that had obediently followed her up the stairs and down the hall, stopping at her side in front of her apartment door. Drawing her keys from her purse, she lifted them to the lock and then hesitated. .Maybe this was a mistake? The storm had died down to a mere thunder shower, he would probably be okay. He would understand, right? She could give him the money in her purse and send him on his way. Except ten bucks and a ‘thank you’ didn’t really seem an appropriate reward for what he had done for her tonight and the thought of him out there on the streets, alone, twisted her heart into a painful knot. Why was that?
A little dazed, she clumsily dropped the keys and quickly bent to get them from the floor. Just as she looked down, the stranger’s hand came into view and grabbed hold of the fallen keys and her hand at the same time. She held her breath and froze. His skin was so cold yet it sparked a jolt of electricity from his fingers to hers, heating her blood and leaving her whole body hot and achy and……aroused? She jerked her hand back at that realization, her startled gaze flying upward to lock with his. Those eyes, so familiar. They were mesmerizing. Fiercely beautiful, yet shadowed with a hint of violence and an enormous amount of pain and sorrow. Cordelia thought that whoever said the eyes were the windows to the soul must have been the smartest person in the world, because in that moment his soul shined so brightly through those dark eyes that it took her breath away. She felt tears threaten the corners of her own eyes. Here in front of her was a man who had seen too much of the world, who had fought and continued to fight on a daily basis a war for his very existence. Her hand reached up before she realized it, intending to touch his ravaged face, to sooth the pain that raged below his grotesque exterior.
“Cordelia?” a nasally voice drifted down the hall, causing her to snap back to reality and drop her hand.
Turning toward the glowing candlelight that peeked through her neighbor’s doorway, she answered, “Richard?” Her nerdy, techno savvy neighbor. Gunn and Wesley hated him. In truth he gave her the willies too, but he was harmless. She had chalked up the weird vibes he gave off to his lack of social skills. He was an introvert and a homebody, rarely leaving his apartment except for the few instances he timidly knocked on her door with some inane excuse. She really felt sorry for the guy. He had only lived in the building for a year now and seemed to have no visitors, family, or even friends. Just his apartment and the almost weekly shipment of computer equipment delivered to his door. Even though something about him bothered Cordelia, she had been kind to him, remembering the way she had treated some boys just like him in school.
“I, I thought I heard you coming down the hall,” the tall, lanky man took a hesitant step from his apartment, his back holding the door wide open. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” she straightened, shaking off whatever trance she had been in. “Power out long?” she tried to sound normal.
“About an hour now,” he pushed up his horn-rimmed glasses with his free hand, trying to make out the dark figure standing behind her. “I’ve got some ..ah…extra candles if you need some,” he stalled.
“I’m good, thanks,” she flashed a quick smile, turned and unlocked the door and quickly ushered in her mysterious guest, leaving Richard alone in the hall.
He felt the danger as soon as he entered the apartment, his acute hearing picking up the clank of metal from the kitchen and the rush of air as the weapon was hurtled at his head. Instinct took over and he caught the knife by the handle, inches from his face as the lights blinked once and then twice, before popping on for good.
“Dennis! You could have killed someone!”
“I think that was the point,” her companion’s scratchy voice answered for the phantom.
Cordelia looked suspiciously to the knife in his hand and then up to his face, her eyebrows raising in question.
“Luck,” he stated before she could ask. “This is your apartment?” he still struggled with his voice.
“No, this is another apartment with a butcher knife wielding ghost. Why?” she asked as she took the knife from him, careful not to let their skin touch.
He looked back at the closed door and then to her, “No reason,” trying to hide his puzzled look.
“Why don’t you sit down,” she stared at him as if he were insane as she motioned to the sofa and placed the knife back in the drawer. “I’m going to check my messages and then we’ll see about those wounds.
He watched her as she walked around the couch and took a deep sighing breath before pushing the blinking button on the machine that sat atop the side table.
BEEP. “Message One, 6:30p.m..”
“Cordelia, Wesley. You’ve been gone for half an hour. I will assume you have stopped off to get takeout or something of that nature. Call as soon as you are safely home and next time don’t forget your cell at the office.”
BEEP. “Message Two, 7:00p.m..”
“Cordelia, Wesley. I know that you are not at the beach. I have complete faith that you would not risk such an excursion in this type of weather. I can only assume that you are delayed by the traffic or otherwise personally indisposed. You can reach me on my cell phone. You know, the devise that we are all supposed to carry at all times. I expect to hear from you shortly.”
BEEP. “Message Three, 7:30p.m..”
“Cordelia, Wesley. Gunn and I are at the theatre…”
“Come on man the movie’s about to start,” Gunn whined in the background.
“I hope that you are not deliberately avoiding my calls like you did last weekend. We only want to ensure your safety, Cordelia. We care for you and know that you’ve been going through a troubled time lately. Please Cordelia, its useless to…Umph, Give me…I beg your pardon.”
“Girl, if you make me miss my movie just because you’re pissed at English I’m gonna kick yo’ butt. And if you’re out in this weather, drivin’ all by yourself, I’m gonna kick yo’ butt. And if you don’t call us in the next half hour, I’m comin’ straight over there.”
“You forgot ‘and kick yo’ butt’,” Wesley’s distant and prim voice mimicked.
“Man, don’t start with me. You’re the one that’s got to call her a hundred times a day. You’re obsessed bro.”
“I’m obsessed. You are the one who hovers over her on every assignment. Even when you’re needed in the thick of the battle.”
“I do not hover. I’m on my guard. I protect my people. I never hover.”
“Just give me the phone.”
“It’s my phone.”
“Come and get it then.”
“Umph. Son-of-a … Let go..” BEEP
“End of messages.”
Cordelia rubbed her temple with one hand as she looked down at her watch. It was almost 8:30 and they hadn’t called back or they had called back and were unable to leave a message because of the power outage. Oh great, that meant they were coming over. She reached for the phone to catch them, but it rang before she picked it up. “Hello, Wesley,” she answered in a sarcastically singsong voice and then quickly changed her tone. “Oh, it‘s you…Yes….Well, we understand that….Well, we sent you a check for that last month…No…No…I realize your firm owns the building….Well, I don’t appreciate you calling my home number,” she slammed down the phone, pushed out a breath and walked back to the kitchen getting a first aid kit and a bottle of water from the refrigerator.
“Here, drink this. It’ll feel good on your throat,” she shoved the bottle at her guest before returning to the phone.
Taking the water bottle, he sagged against the couch, the clear liquid reminding him of his ravenous hunger that now weakened him almost to the point of unconsciousness. Fighting to stay awake he opened the bottle and took a drink of the cold liquid, realizing it really did ease his burning throat.
His eyes studied her as she dialed the phone, taking another calming breath as she waited. She was nervous, whether it was due to the last call or the two men that seemed to be fighting over her he didn’t know, and didn’t really care. Something was upsetting her and he didn’t like it. It was almost unbearable listening to her talk to people he couldn‘t see, couldn‘t kill, especially men, and especially men that seemed to be comfortable telling her what to do. That was his job. Who were they anyway? Why were they in her life? And most importantly, what did they mean to her? He tried to tamp down his jealousy as he finished off the water.
“Hi,” Cordelia said in an all too sweet voice after dialing the phone. “I’m sorry…. I know. I know… Well, there’s no need now. I stopped and got something to eat and jumped in the shower before checking my messages and then the power on this side of town…. I know you do…. I’m not being too nice… I am not…. Nothing’s wrong…Okay…Alright….See ya Monday.”
“Here,” she was suddenly in front of him. He hadn’t even realized that he had closed his eyes. “Give me that,” she took the empty water bottle from him and sat it on the coffee table. “I’m sorry I don’t have anything else. My refrigerator’s lacking in the food department right now but I promise to go and pick us up some breakfast in the morning.“ Opening her plastic arsenal of salves and bandages, she reached for his hand and swallowed hard, trying not to react to the same heat that sparked and flamed its way through her body just as before.
Her touch was so soft, so gentle it almost felt loving. He looked down at his horrible disfigured hand in hers, brutally lit now by the lights of the apartment, and jerked it away unwilling to let the ugliness of his body and soul touch her.
“Oh don’t be such a baby,” she grabbed his hand and pulled it to her knee, gently dabbing the homemade remedy to the torn, corpselike skin. “See, it doesn’t hurt.”
Her words triggered a bright light that flashed through his mind, an image of her doctoring his hand just as she was now. He blinked, staring at her face while she looked down, her attention completely focused on her task as if healing his hand were the most important thing in the world to her right at that moment. Then, another flash, her hands on his shirtless chest, smiling up at him as she patted a bandaged wound tenderly.
They were flooding his mind now, picture after picture of her tending him, making him well, sometimes failing to aid in healing his terrible wounds but always soothing and healing his dead heart. “You’ve done this before,” came his astonished, gravely voice.
“Yeah, Wes and Gunn are always getting roughed up.”
“No, I mean…” she stopped and looked at him with confusion, “never mind.” He really didn’t know what to say anyway. His mind had become such a jumbled mess after being in the sea for what seemed like at least a year. The things flashing through his head were probably wishes, not memories. “Who are Wes and Gunn?” he decided to focus on something real, bristling at the thought of her gentle touch roaming over another man’s body.
“Co-workers,” she never looked up and switched one hand for the other.
He sagged further back against the couch, his eyes growing heavier by the minute. “They didn’t sound like co-workers,” his voice was a bare whisper.
“Very concerned, very bossy, very annoying co-workers,” she mumbled as she eyed all of the cuts and tears covering his body, assessing the damage and using the last of her medicine on the worst ones. “That’s all I have. We’ll get the rest tomorrow,” she finally looked up at him, her eyes full of sympathy and something else he tried to identify before she quickly stood, her heart racing and her eyes darting nervously around the room. “I think it’d be a good idea to take your clothes off. I mean,” she squeaked and shot him a horrified and painful look before trying again. “your body temperature still feels really low. I’ve got some clothes of Gunn’s here. You’re not quite the same size but they’re clean and dry.” She wanted to suggest a warm bath too but didn’t trust herself enough not to say something embarrassingly stupid. Flashing him a tight, anxious smile she hurried to her room and swiftly shut the door.
Leaning against the closed door, Cordelia shut her eyes and pressed her palms against her face. “Get it together, Cordelia,” she spoke softly to herself. “You’ve been a cold fish to every man around you in the past year, but Quasimodo out there makes your blood boil? What’s wrong with you? It’s because he saved your life, that’s all. The Florence Henderson symptom or something like that.”
With a deep breath, she opened her closet, rifling through the week’s office dry cleaning she had picked up the day before, thankful she had forgotten to return it to the guys that morning. After choosing a gray fleece pullover and black cargo pants, she squared her shoulders and opened the door, determined not to let him or his touch, or his eyes, or his quiet strength get to her.
“Your boots are still in good shape, although I don’t know what they’ll look like with….” she trailed off when she looked down at the sleeping man. He was leaned back completely now, almost laying flat on his back. His eyes were closed and he slept so peacefully she could swear that his chest hardly moved. Her gaze drifted over him boldly, now that he was asleep she was unafraid of what his eyes might see in hers. He was a big man and looked as if at one time in his life he had been in great shape. His hair was a thick mess of dark brunette spikes and tangles and for some reason she wanted to run her fingers through it, so she did, studying his still face as she did so.
His cheeks were bloated and pale, even more so than she had thought at first, and the lacerations on his face looked old, as if they came about long ago but refused to heal. One eye was so swollen and damaged it seemed impossible for him to open it or at least to see with it properly. She looked down at his broken hands and scrutinized the marks she had seen earlier on his wrists. At one time this poor creature had been bound in what looked to be the evidence of chains. She felt tears burning in her eyes at the thought of that. How someone could torture him or restrain him in such a cruel way made her want to scream.
Leaning down on her knees, she freed him of his soggy boots and then stood to reach over his body, pulling the throw from the back of her sofa to tuck around him gently. “You are ‘different’, aren’t you?“ she whispered. Then, combing her fingers through his dirty and disorderly hair one last time, she bent over and brushed her lips across his forehead and breathed a promise against his cold skin, “You’re safe here, you’ll always be safe with me.”
He felt her leave and heard the soft sound of her bedroom door shutting before touching the spot she had kissed above his brow. Trying to will himself back to sleep in order to fight the painful hunger, he wondered if she would feel the same if she knew just how ‘different’ he truly was.